In August 2011, at just 37 years old, Chrissi woke up in the operating room to find out she had both of her ovaries removed. What began as surgery to treat endometriosis and uterine fibroids had turned into something much more. Her doctors had discovered in the operating room that she had ovarian cancer.
For patients with ovarian cancer, it’s important to know that there are still options for fertility. While you may not be able to become pregnant naturally, through proper planning and discussions early on with your provider you can still fulfill your dreams of building a family.
Prior to surgery for endometriosis, Chrissi had already began exploring her fertility options. Her OB/GYN (Dr. Richman of Cherry Hill OB/GYN) referred her to Dr. Vandeerlin at South Jersey Fertility Center, knowing she may have difficulty with conception given her endometriosis. This was a crucial step in building her connected care team and planning for her future.
As Chrissi shares, “While you never think of having to have surgery as lucky, I consider myself lucky that because of my care team, all of my fertility options were considered.”
How Surgery For Endometriosis Nearly Saved Her Life
In preparation for the endometriosis surgery, Chrissi went in for an MRI, which is where her doctors found an abnormal test result – a potential sign of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is rare in women under age 40. In fact, most ovarian cancers are found in women after menopause who are 63 years of age and older. While the doctors assumed the results would ultimately turn up benign, they brought in a GYN oncologist for another opinion.
On August 5, 2011, Chrissi went into surgery with all three doctors: her OB/GYN, fertility specialist, and GYN oncologist. It wasn’t until Chrissy woke up in the recovery room, that she found out she had ovarian cancer and both her ovaries had been removed.
Chrissi recalls, “They went out to my husband during surgery and said it is cancer and you have to decide whether we take one or both ovaries. We were just married, and it was such a difficult decision, but he did exactly what I would have chosen myself.”
Having previously discussed her desire to become pregnant, Dr. Vandeerlin ensured they kept Chrissi’s cervix and uterus intact so that she could still carry a baby. While Chrissi knew she still had a long journey ahead in battling cancer, knowing she still had the option to get pregnant was a blessing.
Resuming Fertility Treatment After Beating Cancer
After surgery, Chrissi underwent 6 cycles of chemotherapy to treat the ovarian cancer. While it took time for her body to heal, she eventually returned Dr. Vandeerlin in 2013 to start the process of donor egg IVF and was fortunate to have success after her first transfer. She gave birth to Grace on August 5, 2014, exactly 3 years to the day since her oophorectomy (surgery to remove the ovaries).
Her experience with cancer was life-changing and brought her priorities into focus. She notes, “Having cancer changed my life, not always in a bad way. It made me realize I wanted to spend more time with family, so I decided to be a stay-at-home mom. I can’t imagine if I wasn’t able to have her, and am thankful for her every day. She’s my life.”
Chrissi hopes to raise awareness about fertility options for women have been through treatment for cancer. She credits the entire team at South Jersey Fertility Center for their excellent care. “Val and Traci and the entire care team at South Jersey Fertility were amazing. We ended up donating our frozen embryos back to the clinic, in hopes we can help someone else.”
Her final words of advice regarding IVF with donor egg, “It’s tough while you’re going through it, but it’s so worth it in the end. Once you have a child, all of the factors you think will matter when choosing a donor, won’t end up mattering. I even forget sometimes that my daughter isn’t genetically mine.”